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Meaning of: Ezekiel saw da wheel


You responded to a query of mine on Choralist regarding "Ezekiel Saw de Wheel," specifically the meaning behind the text. Apparently, Ezekiel saw a vision of wheels turning in the air, which he took to somehow symbolize the glory of God. One reply suggested that Ezekiel had ingested mind-altering substances, while several others said that this was the earlist known evidence of UFO's.

Anyway, the pertinent parts of the Bible for reference are:

Ezekiel 1:15-22
Ezekiel 10:9-19

Take care,

Mike Bultman
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on September 11, 2003 10:00pm
I'm no expert on African-American spirituals, but I believe there is a thought that the text of Ezekiel saw da wheel was a coded message for slaves wanting to travel on the underground railroad. Just as "wade in the water" was advising escaping slaves to wade in the water to avoid being tracked by dogs, many spirituals have such messages imbedded in the texts.
on March 12, 2006 10:00pm
Hello from Canada! I am doing an arrangement right now of this piece and below is what a student and I have found on its meaning, referring to our Bibles and also The Bible as Literature: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha by Buckner B. Trawick.

This story of Ezekiel and his vision from God appears in the Bible, the book of Ezekiel, Chapter One. I encourage you to read it for yourselves.
The vision was God's way of calling of Ezekiel to go and prophesy to the rebellious people of Judah. He must warn them that unless they repent of their wickedness and reform, they will die. (You have to read the rest of the book to find out what happened!)

What Ezekiel saw was 4 living things (my text called them "cherubs") that looked like human beings, coming from a cloud. "They each had 4 faces and 2 pairs of wings. Their legs were straight like human legs but their feet were split like calves' feet and shone like bronze. The living beings could turn in the air."

The four faces that each being had were that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The lion, ox and eagle are frequent symbols of deities in ancient religions of the Middle East. (Compare to the creatures described in Revelations 4:7).

The four wings that each cherub had made a sound "like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty".

Above the cherubim was a "terrible crystal" firmament (sky/platform/expanse), and above that, a sapphire throne on which sat Yahweh (God) himself, encircled in fiery brightness.

God gave Ezekiel a scroll symbolizing God's judgment and told him to eat it. Ezekiel found that it tasted as sweet as honey, symbolizing that it is sweet to yield to the will of God. (John had a similar experience in Revelation 10:8-11.)

As Ezekiel looked beneath the beings he saw 4 wheels on the ground beneath them, one wheel belonging to each. "The rims of the 4 wheels were awesomely tall, and they were covered with eyes all around the edges. When the 4 living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. When they flew upward, the wheels went up too. The spirit of the 4 living beings was in the wheels. So wherever the spirit went the wheels and the living beings went, too. When the living beings moved, the wheels moved. When they stopped the wheels stopped."

Each wheel had a smaller wheel inside of it ("'tis a wheel in a wheel") and while I couldn't find anything on their symbolism, we can refer back to the song, which says that one of the wheels moved by faith, and the other by the grace of God.

Hope this is of help to others!

Carolyn Gwyer
Neelin High School
Brandon, Manitoba, Canada

on August 27, 2007 10:00pm
Thank you, Carolyn Gwyer, I'm writing a play about my hometown of New Orleans, called Excavating Katrina. The maid our family had when I was little used to sing this song in the house I grew up in. In the play she starts off the dream sequence (sort of a night vision- which is most of the play) singing this song. I looked on line to find out its meaning and have found your research very helpful and insightful.
on November 14, 2007 10:00pm
The idea of 'code songs' for the underground railroad seems to be a myth. I can't see how slaves would be dumb enough to make their plans obvious, or plantation owners failing to notice that certain songs coincide with their slaves making a run for it.
on February 3, 2008 10:00pm
I've heard the wade in the water spiritual connection before, while reading through my history book in AP US History...So at least that is true.
on February 12, 2015 11:29am
read Matthew Henry's commentary on the certain chapters of Ezekiel. They say that the wheel was sort of a symbol of the Holy Spirit. They also say that when the prophet Ezekiel looked at the wheel, they turned. It was a way to say that in order for your life to be right, you need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is sometimes not credited for his works in the Bible and in the world around us. the Holy Spirit was sent to lead the Body of Christ, which is the church. The Holy Spirit is a person and it seems to the slaves they understood the importance of him in their devotion to God. In the slaves lives they had no way to turn but God, so many of them believed in God so much they devoted their lives passionately(as if their lives depended on it) to him as one would need water in a dry and arid dessert. It would be ashamed for someone to sing the spirituals without totaly understanding this point. It needs passion. Look into the lives of slaves, study them, see their pain and agony. Look at the pictures. See how this sincere look portrayed what they truly felt while singing in the fields or where ever they were. If you don't capture these elements, you really don't understand the music. I think I understand why conductors study the score so much. It's out of respect of the composers hard work and the song writers sharing of their souls to express a piece of themselves.